Malpaso Dance Company performs at the College of Charleston Sottile Theatre during Spoleto Festival USA 2022 | Photo by David Altschul

The co-founders of Malpaso Dance Company enjoy the humor of the company’s name because people, especially Cubans, connect to comedy.

But Malpaso–which translates to “misstep” in English–is also personal for Osnel Delgado, Daileidys Carrazana and Fernando Sáez, the three co-founders.

When dancers Delgado and Carrazana left Danza Contemporánea de Cuba, the national modern dance company of Cuba, to form a new dance company with theater artist Sáez in 2012, many saw the move as a mistake.

“Osnel was advised by close friends, even relatives, about not leaving the secure ground of a successful dance company like Danza Contemporánea de Cuba because that would be a bad step,” Sáez said. “Nevertheless, Osnel was stubborn enough and left that secure ground to follow an uncertain adventure.”

The trio created Malpaso as a repertory company, meaning Malpaso commissions works from emerging Cuban choreographers and prominent, international choreographers. The company, based in Havana, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.

“It’s a very diverse repertory,” Delgado said. “It makes us very versatile as dancers because each specific process is a big challenge.” 

The range of creative processes in Malpaso’s repertory also contributes to the development and diversification of its dancers. 

“We don’t want them to be trained and to improve themselves and to grow only as dancers,” Carrazana said. “So we want to expand their creativity as much as they want and as much as we can.”

Sáez also sees a philosophical implication in Malpaso’s name that drives the company’s mission of risk-taking.

“It is about the right of failing,” he said.  “It is about the duty of failing. We have to grant ourselves the right of failure because the only way of growing and learning is from mistakes.”

The co-founders see the company as public servants. 

“We do not exist–the performing arts, theater and dance in particular–don’t exist without the presence of the others, of the audiences,” Sáez said.

Malpaso was confronted with this fact when the pandemic forced the company to return to Cuba in March 2020. Large gatherings were illegal in Cuba, so the company had to pivot. Delgado and Carrazana organized dance classes designed for small spaces and commissioned company members to create some works. They wanted to keep the dancers in shape not only physically but also mentally.

“Enduring was not enough,” Sáez said. “Resisting was not enough. We had to grow.” 

Delayed for two years

Malpaso was slated to make its Spoleto Festival USA debut in 2020. Two years later, the company will perform four works June 10-11 at the College of Charleston Sottile Theatre. 

“We are very happy to finally land in Spoleto,” Sáez said.

Malpaso’s program reflects the life and range of the company. The stylistically diverse works chronicle the company’s ever-expanding roster of choreographers and the company’s technical prowess. 

“We haven’t had a program going to such extremes in this way,” Carrazana said.

The program will open with the solo “Lullaby for Insomnia,” choreographed by Carrazana and performed by Delgado. When Malpaso first formed, the two danced everything together because the company didn’t have many dancers.

“For me there is something very beautiful because at the beginning I was mostly the choreographer, and I was relying on her way of dealing with the dance and the technique,” Delgado said. “Now things are changing around as she’s choreographing and relying on me as a dancer.” 

“Lullaby for Insomnia” is an excerpt from a larger work based on the queer, Black, Cuban musician Bola de Nieve. Carrazana said the solo explores de Nieve’s melancholic personality and the discrimination he faced in Cuba.

“It seems to me that what saved him as a person, as an artist, was the way he was deeply rooted into our culture,” she said. “He found this connection between his music and the roots of Cuban culture the best way to open his beautiful soul.”

The company will present a special extended version of Swedish choreographer  Mats Ek’s solo “woman with water” and the highly athletic “Tabula Rosa” by Ohad Naharin, a seldom performed work Naharin restaged specifically for Malpaso in 2018.

Malpaso will close with “Why You Follow” by Ronald K. Brown, who was the first international guest choreographer Malpaso commissioned in 2013. Malpaso is in the process of restaging the work, and the company will connect with Brown during a tour stop in Boston before performing “Why You Follow” at Spoleto.

“It’s a celebration of life in a very explosive way,” Sáez said.

This will be one of the more challenging programs Malpaso has presented. Technically speaking, it’s a demanding lineup. But the company is excited for the challenges the pieces present.

“It’s about enjoying the differences of each of the pieces and assuming and accepting the challenge of delivering each one at the top quality,” Sáez said.

Katherine Kiessling is a graduate student in the Goldring Arts Journalism and Communications Program at Syracuse University.

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